Muscle injuries
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Muscle injuries are a wide range of conditions that can affect the skeletal muscles of the body as a result of external forces. As they facilitate movement, accidents or overuse can cause muscles to be strained, causing them to experience swelling, bruising or even tearing. Muscle injuries vary in severity, and their effects and symptoms affect movement and functionality of the affected area differently. Treatment will also vary in range depending on the area injured and the extent of the injury.


To understand muscle injury, it is first important to understand muscular structure. A single muscle is a group of small bundles covered by and outer covering. These smaller bundles themselves are composed of individual muscle fibers. These muscle fibers slide against each other; shortening and lengthening in order to facilitate movement of skeletal joints. These fibers experience stress and may react to extreme pressures by tearing, suddenly contracting, stiffening and other effects.


There are various signs of muscle injury and while some are visible, others may not be so immediately noticeable. Muscle injury can cause swelling and tenderness in the affected area, and if the injury was caused by a blow contusion or bleeding can occur. Pain can also be felt either at rest or when the affected muscle is moved. The level of pain varies from injury to injury. Some may report weakness or stiffness of the affected muscle, or in more severe cases, a complete inability to move the affected part. A doctor can perform a more thorough physical exam to determine the extent of the injury.

Common types of muscle injury include contusions, muscle strain, muscle cramps and repetitive strain injury.

Contusions result from direct blows on to the muscle surface, often as a result of playing rough contact sports. Where as superficial injuries caused by blows often show immediate bruising in the targeted area, deeper injuries caused by more serious blows often do not manifest immediately. Also, since the muscle is covered in a sheath, bleeding may not immediately leak out from the affected area and may appear in places lower than the affected area, as gravity pulls the bleeding down. Contusions may appear as a bluish or purplish bruise, as well as in a greenish hue.
Muscle Injuries
Image: Muscle Injuries

Muscle strain occurs when a muscle has been made to stretch too far than it is capable. This causes tears in the muscle fiber that can accumulate and cause pain, especially when moving the limb affected. Muscle strain can be classified according to the extent of fiber damage that occurred. Grade I strain involves minimal tearing, about less than 5% of the total fibers are injured, and may only required 2 to 3 weeks of rest for recovery. Grade II strain involves more extensive damage and fiber tearing, but the muscle itself does not rupture. A more severe case, the affected area should be rested for 3 to 6 weeks. Grade III strain involves rupturing of the muscle itself, and may require surgery to repair. Rehabilitation of the affected areas may take at least 3 months. Even a low-grade injury however should be treated with care, and athletes should completely rest the affected area when possible until a full recovery is assumed.

Muscle cramps on the other hand, do not involve tearing but rather a sudden involuntary contraction of the muscle that bunches together in a hard knot. This may be caused by overworking a particular muscle or suddenly exposing it to cold temperature such as when swimming. Dehydration and pregnancy may also cause muscle cramps. Alcohol may also cause muscle cramps in rare cases, as well as lithium-based drugs. Conditions such as tetanus or inflammatory muscle conditions may also cause cramps.


Repetitive strain injury or RSI, as the name suggest, arises from continuous repetitive use of a muscle or joint, which can cause accumulative damage to the muscles involved. This can also arise from extremely forceful or violent repetitions of movements. Improper posture when moving or working can aggravate this situation, as well as the lack of rest and moving objects that are too heavy for one’s current strength level. RSI causes stiffness and swelling in the affected area, as well as weakness and loss of coordination. Pain maybe be experienced in varying degrees, or sometimes a tingling sensation can be felt, if not numbness. This may indicate that a nerve has been injured.


Primary treatment for most muscle injury is what is known as the PRICE method PRICE is an acronym which stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. These are the primary actions which should be done to most muscle injuries to help treat them. First the injured area should be protected from hyperextension or trauma. The injury should also be rested and movement and pressure should be avoided until it recovers. Placing an ice pack on the injury, particularly during the first 24 to 72 hours of the injury will help reduce the swelling and may relive the pain. Do not use ice cubes or blocks directly on the skin though as it will cause frostbite, nor should the application of cold packs be done for longer than 15 to 20 minutes. Compression should be done to prevent additional damage due to movement of the injured muscle. Lastly, the injured part should be elevated above the heart level when lying down to ease pressure on the injury.

Except for cramps, avoid stretching the injured area until it has recovered. Massaging contusions and muscle strain to relieve tension should only be done once it has healed a bit and should not be done with excessive force.

Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammation drugs or pain relievers in order to ease the pain felt during recovery but should only be done so under doctor’s supervision.


Warming up and stretching before doing any strenuous physical activity is advised to loosen up muscles so that they may work much more efficiently and do not get injured by sudden movements. Stretching after strenuous exercise is also recommended to avoid cramps which the muscles may experience after a sudden decrease in physical activity.

Regular exercise and training is also essential for athletes to keep their muscles in top condition. The stronger and more flexible the muscles are, the less likely it will get injured during performance.
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